Yesterday's five most valuable players: In a losing cause

Brandon Marshall(notes), Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos. Usually these spots are reserved for guys who won, but this morning, we're forced to invoke the 21-catch exception. Marshall just tortured the Colts secondary all day, keeping the Broncos in a game that looked like a blowout early. He worked the slant, he worked the sidelines, he worked the subtle push-off ... he used pretty much every trick in the book. A lot of his yards came after the catch, too, as he made himself a beast to bring down. None of these were deep balls, either. His longest gain was 23 yards. Usually when a man gets 200 yards receiving, he's landed at least a couple haymakers. Not Marshall. Body shots, all day long.

Ricky Williams(notes), Running Back, Miami Dolphins. Ronnie Brown(notes) goes down, pretty much throwing the Wildcat out the window for the Dolphins, and everybody wonders how they'll be able to move the ball. Here we are, though, late in the season in the biggest playoff-implication game of the week, and Williams is giving us the vintage stuff. He's pounding it into the middle. He's grinding out the tough yards. They're not the biggest numbers, but they're important, clock-draining, defense-punishing numbers. At this time of year, how many teams out there can turn around and give the ball to someone like Williams? He's a dependable, productive, workhorse back you can completely trust.

Brandon Siler(notes) and Tim Dobbins(notes), Linebackers, San Diego Chargers. The most important sequence in the Chargers/Cowboys game yesterday was probably the goal-line stand late in the second quarter, after the Cowboys jammed the ball down the Chargers' throats for 98 yards, and then couldn't get that last one. Brandon Siler or fellow inside linebacker Tim Dobbins were in on the last four tackles of the drive, including Siler getting the direct stop of Marion Barber(notes) of fourth down. Siler and Dobbins are just a couple of the guys on the Chargers defense who were reserves at the beginning of the year, but had to step in due to injuries, and have allowed the Chargers to maintain at least a halfway-serviceable defense.

De'Sean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles. Is there anyone more explosive in the entire NFL right now? He's one of those guys who, if you've let him get his hands on the ball, you've already made a major mistake, and you're now in an emergency situation. His 72-yard punt return touchdown last night was magic. The key move he made on the play was just to patiently back up, take another look at things, let teammates get in position for blocks, and then just light the rocket that was lodged in his doopa and take off down the sideline with sick speed. With three games left in the season, he's already tied the NFL record for 50+ yard touchdowns in a season.

Antoine Winfield(notes), Defensive Back, Minnesota Vikings. In the first half of the Vikings/Bengals game yesterday, Antoine Winfield had a Carson Palmer(notes) pass hit him in the hands, and he couldn't make the catch. He hit the turf right there, and made himself do 10 pushups, Willie Mays Hayes-style. Otherwise, he had a great day, making some huge stops, helping keep the Bengals passing game grounded, and forcing a fumble.